A solid premise matters little when the execution can barely match it.

Petrunya (Zorica Nusheva), wandering home from a job interview, literally throws herself into the middle of a male-only religious tradition, a fixture of her small town.

Emerging from the river victorious amidst hundreds of men clutching the cross hurled in by the local Priest, shock quickly begets outrage. Soon hiding from the more violent protesters in her home and else, Petrunya refuses to give up that rightfully hers.

Introducing many audiences to the likes of a tradition with which they will be roundly unfamiliar, the best thing this film has going for it is that the creators have absolutely nailed an original plot. Conveying said story with a haphazard, predominantly inconsistent visual style, one among the film’s detractions, does it little justice.

The extended opening shot providing a promise of what this film could have been, it’s style and substance is not returned to throughout, save an oblique hark back to those initial moments in the very final frames. Alternately tight shots on characters soon give way to expanded vistas of any given room and it’s inhabitants. The cuts between such approaches in successive sequences and indeed within individual scenes are routinely conspicuous and distracting.

Heads or parts thereof are cut off in some encounters and if intentional (to possibly promote a sense of displacement) is not conducive to any effect; merely serving to highlight the disparate visual choices perceptible throughout. The action too halts at one stage for several silent, fleeting faces positioned squarely in front of the camera while in one of the film’s more interesting advents a reporter narrates often directly to viewers, though the near entirely expository bent of this role is distracting beyond all else.

Nusheva is very good; her character, the film and the title itself posing many theological questions (often blatantly) about piety, tradition and the observance of religion. In that which it pursues ‘God Exists’ opens welcome avenues for speculation, buoyed by its arguable operation as a parable-driven tale.

Had the film rested more heavily on its sparing comic attributes it might have better recommended the narrative; the absurdist, blackly comic potential evident in the nature of proceedings by no means an avenue not pursued by filmmakers who have sought to tackle matters of religious authority and suppression. Fixating on more dramatic turns however, the approach, varied and confusing as it is, does not greatly further what is in every respect an excellent foundation.

God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya had it’s Australian Premiere as part of the Sydney Film Festival Official Competition and screens as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival on August 6th at 6:30PM at the Forum Theatre and August 18th at 1:45PM at The Capitol and as part of the Travelling Film Festival on February 9, 2020 in Katherine and February 23, 2020 in Alice Springs

For our interview with ‘God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya’ Director Teona Strugar Mitevska see here

on Falkenscreen